USM, Maine Law moved to remote operations for the day on Friday, Nov. 6 to assess concerns with growing community transmission in Maine and following detection of the virus in wastewater sampling at the USM-Gorham campus provisionally interpreted as higher than expected based on the known caseload by the University of Maine System Scientific Advisory Board.
USM and Maine Law expect to welcome students and employees back to campus Monday, Nov. 9 pending additional wastewater sampling and analysis of asymptomatic testing.
Orono, Maine — For the first time since sampling began in August, a detectable level of SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in the wastewater of the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. The viral load of the sample is provisionally interpreted by the UMS Scientific Advisory Board as being higher than expected based on the known caseload. This interpretation is provisional, relative to pending repeat testing over the weekend.
The University of Maine also reported its first detectable level of the virus in its wastewater this week which is interpreted as consistent with the known caseload.
On Oct. 28 the UMS wastewater testing team detected a low level of the virus at the Town of Orono’s Water Pollution Control Facility. A repeat analysis of a sample the facility collected on Oct. 30 indicated the virus level was at the low to nondetectable range.
“We have included wastewater sampling in our multifaceted approach to monitoring for COVID-19 because it can be an early, community-based indicator of changes in infection prevalence,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, chair of the UMS Scientific Advisory Board. “The COVID-19 virus is stealthy, but the developing science and our commitment to sampling and testing help guide the work we do to limit the spread of disease.”
USM President Glenn Cummings and University of Maine School of Law Dean Leigh Saufley asked students and employees to learn and work remotely for the day on Friday, Nov. 6, to heighten awareness of the community transmission underway throughout Maine and to limit campus-based interactions. With additional sampling of wastewater taking place over the weekend and on-going asymptomatic testing, together with continued commitment to all of our safe return measures USM and the Law School expect to welcome students and employees back to campus on Monday, Nov. 9.
On Nov. 5, Maine Governor Janet Mills announced a new face covering executive order in response to the widespread community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.
USM is conducting asymptomatic testing that is part of a round of amplified screening authorized by Chancellor Malloy. Additional testing is scheduled to occur on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 9-10. In addition, a follow-up sample of wastewater at the Gorham campus will be collected Nov. 6, for expedited analysis over the weekend.
In his message to the USM community President Cummings outlined steps the university is taking today including requiring nonessential personnel to work remotely on Friday, November 6, testing essential staff, and recommending that residential students remain on campus through the weekend.
“USM students are a very diverse community of working adults and traditional-aged commuter and residence hall students,” said Cummings. “A one-day transition to remote work and learning creates immediate awareness of our need to be even more vigilant in our commitment to safety practices and gives our team the weekend to assess our incoming asymptomatic testing results and the plans we already have in place to test students early next week.”
Maine Law Dean Saufley noted to students, faculty and staff that given the expanding presence of the virus in Maine, extra caution is in order.
“It’s important to remember that the system is working exactly as we planned,” wrote Dean Saufley in her message to the Maine Law community. “The wastewater system provides an early alert, and extra precautions should help keep us safe. We will be assessing the situation over the weekend, and we’ll have more information regarding building access and any additional testing protocols to you before Monday morning.”
Provisional Wastewater Analysis at USM-Gorham: Higher than anticipated based on known caseload
A sample of the wastewater collected on USM’s Gorham campus on Nov. 3 indicated the presence of the novel coronavirus at 21,076 virus equivalents per liter (VE/L). The University of Maine System’s Scientific Advisory Board provisionally interprets that concentration as higher than expected based on the known caseload. USM reports four active cases among its faculty, staff, and student population but only two of these individuals are residential students at the Gorham campus.
The University of Maine also reported its first detectable level of SARS-CoV-2 in a sample of wastewater collected earlier this week at 9,600 virus equivalents per liter. With seven known, active cases of COVID-19, including five administrative employees who worked together on campus and in-person at the offices of Facilities Management while the wastewater sampling occurred, the results at UMaine have been provisionally interpreted as consistent with the known caseload.
The UMaine communities members known to have active cases of COVID-19 are already in isolation and contact tracing is underway in coordination with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Keeping our students and communities safe and informed while enabling learning to continue is our highest priority in the University of Maine System.